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6/24/2010
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Why Orszag's Resignation Matters (And Why Not)

When Obama administration budget director Peter Orszag steps down from his post sometime next month, he'll be leaving as one of the tech-savviest budget directors ever. Whether that matters for government IT is a different question.

When Obama administration budget director Peter Orszag steps down from his post sometime next month, he'll be leaving as one of the tech-savviest budget directors ever. Whether that matters for government IT is a different question.Quick recap: the White House announced earlier this week that Orszag was resigning. There seems to be no official reason, just speculation about power clashes, disagreements over deficits, or fatigue from the grind. Conventional wisdom says he's likely to head to a think tank next. So, does his departure matter?

On the one hand, Orszag's interest in using technology to further governance is self-evident: as director of the Congressional Budget Office before being named director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, he was one of the first government officials to start a blog.

He's carried that interest over into his White House role, where he's championed the improvement of government IT, saying repeatedly this year that government inefficiency and ineffectiveness often stems from having outdated technology.

"I believe the single greatest driver of the productivity divide between government and the private sector is information technology," he said in a speech earlier this month. "Closing the IT gap is perhaps the single most important step we can take in creating a more efficient and productive government."

On the other hand, the job of the OMB director is very budget-focused and high-level. The director is, in short, a Presidential aide, not always able to get down into the nitty gritty of government operations.

While Orszag might mention data center consolidation, cloud computing, and project management in an occasional speech or blog post, the OMB's deputy director for management and chief performance officer Jeff Zients and federal CIO Vivek Kundra really take the reins of IT initiatives.

That said, on Monday, Orszag and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel are expected to release memos pointing a new way forward for elements of federal IT, diving into topics like project management and financial systems upgrades.

Key to those memos -- and others dealing with IT over the course of the administration -- surely have been the work of other OMB officials like Zients and Kundra, but there's little question that having a tech savvy boss helps those guys get the higher-level political cover they need to get sweeping and long-lasting tech-related proclamations made, and to getting them funded once the guidance is out.

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